A couple of questions about Vermont PBS’ new program

Our public television service, Vermont PBS, is kind of a skin-of-its-teeth operation. (Especially compared to VPR, the Alpha Male of Vermont media.) It can’t really afford much in the way of local programming. (Compared to VPR, which could be doing a lot more than it does.)

So the teevee folks are to be congratulated for launching a new weekly show, “Connect… WIth Kristin Carlson.” It debuts this Friday evening at 8:30, and is described thusly:

Our region is loaded with some of the most interesting, inspiring and creative people found anywhere, both locally based and folks visiting from afar. We’ll catch up with them, whether in the studio or on the road, and get a glimpse at what drives them. Writers, musicians, community and business leaders, filmmakers, social visionaries… if they’ve got a story, Kristin will be talking to them.

This is nice. This is great. More locally-produced programming, I’m all for it.

But I do have a couple of questions.

1. Carlson will keep her day job as spokesflack for Green Mountain Power. Does that bother anyone? It’d be worse if “Connect” was a news/current events show instead of a softer interview program. But what if some of the episodes feature business or political leaders?

Vermont has a decidedly relaxed attitude toward conflict of interest in the media — as long as the person involved is a familiar face. Sue Allen has gone back and forth between media and politics. Chris Graff can be taken seriously as a “political analyst” for years after he became spokesflack for one of Vermont’s biggest corporations. Carlson is just the latest example of concern-free line-straddling in our media.

The news release announcing “Connect” artfully elides the issue. It describes Carlson as a “broadcast journalist turned communications and energy expert,” which is, shall we say, a very creative if not overtly deceitful way of describing her job. Later in the news release, Carlson is said to be “a leader at Green Mountain Power,” which is equally creative. Nothing about her being the power company’s lead spokesperson, just a “leader.”

2. If I were Fran Stoddard, I’d be more than a little pissed. Stoddard was the host of “Profile” on Vermont Public Television (as it was then called). The show was cancelled in 2012.

Now, three years later, we have an essentially identical program with a new host. What’s that about?

And a related question…

2.5. Who’s paying for the show? Vermont PBS is about to lose nearly $300,000 in state funding, and may lose it all in the near future. When the legislature was considering a cut in public TV funding, VTPBS President Holly Groschner issued dire warnings of cuts in programming and staffing.

Now, just a couple of months later, they’re launching a new program. I strongly suspect that there’s a single large underwriter behind this. If it turns out to be Green Mountain Power, that’s a giant red flag. If Carlson wangled the funding through her corporate connections, that’s definitely in the deep-charcoal side of the gray zone.

Vermont PBS’ news release says nothing about underwriters or grants. I guess we’ll have to tune in at 8:30 Friday night and wait for the credits to roll.

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5 thoughts on “A couple of questions about Vermont PBS’ new program

  1. Sam Worthington

    I agree about Ms. Carlson facing conflicts of interest in her new/rehashed talking head role. I wish PBS had brought in a new face without the baggage Carlson has attached to her. It was well known that she sympathized with the Republicans and was a Douglas go-to while working at WGOP. I won’t be watching this show just for that reason. IMHO, her move to GMP was proof of how married she was to the GOP.

    Reply
  2. Holly Groschner

    Thanks for watching Connect …. With Kristin Carlson. It IS amazing that Vermont PBS can find a way to fulfill its mission of non-commercial, non-partisan community programming in such a financially stressful year. But that’s what we were built to do. And this is no time to stop! It helps us to accomplish this goal that Ms Carlson was willing to do this work “on the side” and is so efficient that GMP agreed — without asking for underwriting credit. That’s commitment to the community — on everyone’s part. Hope you enjoy the show.

    Reply
  3. Cynthia Browning

    Green Mountain Power has a near monopoly of electricity distribution in Vermont, and it is part of a giant foreign corporation that is partially owned by a foreign government. My understanding is that other corporations in the ownership structure include Vermont Gas and oil pipeline companies. I see NO REASON why a GMP employee should be hosting any kind of show on VPT. In her current position Ms. Carlson has forfeited any right to be taken seriously in any kind of journalistic gig, and VPT should not be a vehicle for whitewashing the way in which GMP uses its monopoly power to get what it wants from state regulators, or for lending her some kind of halo of favorability with VPT viewers that carries over into more credibility as GMP spokesperson. If GMP wants to give money, fine, but I agree that VPT has lost its way on this one.

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

    Reply

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